Friday, April 21, 2017

Justice for the victims before national reconciliation

Gambia's AG and Justice Minister,  Baa Tambadou 
We refrained from injecting ourselves in the criminal investigations and prosecutions of Jammeh's victims and, the process that will lead up to the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, because we wanted to give the government time and space that they obviously need.

Both commodities are quickly running out and thus the need to throw in our two cents now rather than later.

We, therefore, welcome the announcement and appreciate the fact that plans are afoot to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the end of the current calendar year.  We also acknowledge the release of all political prisoners and government's actions taken thus far to account for the numerous Gambians who have gone missing under Yaya Jammeh.  We also acknowledge the ongoing investigations and eventual prosecutions of those implicated in the death in NIA custody of Solo Sandeng.  We hope government will step up its efforts in these and other cases as well.

"Accountability for the gravest crimes is crucial to building respect for the rule of law and contributing to the deterrence of future abuses," to lift a quote from Human Rights Watch's (HRW) letter to the Hon. Minister of Justice.  

That said, we'd like to join HRW in encouraging government to commit more resources and devote more time and energy in delivering justice to the hundreds, if not thousands, of victims and their families across the country.   Investigating and prosecuting the numerous cases involving Gambian victims of the dictatorial regime of Jammeh should not be relegated to the back burner for truth and reconciliation efforts.

As we have advocated in the past, criminal investigations and prosecutions and truth-telling and reconciliation are not mutually exclusive processes.  Therefore, they can run concurrently, provided criminal investigations and prosecutions of those accused of criminal offenses takes precedence over the setting up the TRC because as HRW noted "truth telling and reconciliation measures are not a substitute for criminal judicial proceedings."

As regards the eventual prosecution of Yaya Jammeh, some prefer the ICC while others, including us, prefer that he be prosecuted locally by a hybrid court, similar to the courts that were established to prosecute those accused of criminal offenses following the 1981 coup d'etat led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang.  Witness protection, a legitimate concern, given Jammeh's extensive network of violent supporters, is a key preoccupation of proponents of the ICC route.  We believe, however, the local security apparatus is sufficiently provide protection for victims and their families.